Dead Space 2023 Review (PS5) – Horror Reanimated
The year 2008 was a phenomenal time for video games. GTA IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Gears of War 2. Hell, even LittleBigPlanet, all made their triumphant entrances to the era. Amongst all the heavy hitters, massive sequels and established IPs, was Dead Space.
An action-horror game released in a time when survival horror as a genre was all but dormant, it took gaming audiences by storm. It’s a ridiculously highly acclaimed, revered and fantastic game, encapsulating a wonderful new approach to immersion, in-game storytelling and action mechanics.
How do you take a title which is held in such high esteem and reimagine it for modern audiences almost 15 years later? Should it even be done? EA and Motive Studio certainly thought so. I was very much on-board. But the real question is have the development team done the terrifying original justice?
It’s about time we don our engineer suit, take up the plasma cutter once again and see if Isaac Clarke’s harrowing space venture is as brilliant as we remember.
Isaac Clarke, At Your Service
Aside from the expected graphical overhaul and updated gameplay systems, the biggest gamble Dead Space remake takes is making Isaac fully voiced. In the original, the creative decision to have Isaac be mute was intended to allow the player to fill the avatar’s role themselves, deepening their connection to the fear.
It’s a bold choice, one which certainly won’t sit well with everyone. For me however, it works superbly. Gunnar Wright, who voiced Isaac in Dead Space 2 & 3, is brought back to reprise the role and he handles it with aplomb. Hearing Isaac actually react to the horrendous carnage occurring around him is great. He delivers some excellent one-liners worthy of a true action hero and the writing gives him space to explore grief, heroism and blunt defiance of his odds.
Isaac isn’t the only story thread to be reworked for the better. The wider cast including Chen, Johnson, Hammond and Daniels are all fleshed out more than the original afforded them. Isaac’s relationship with his partner Nicole (missing on the Ishimura) is explored in more detail and the backstories of the relentless Necromorphs, antagonist figures like Dr. Mercer and the Church of Unitology are expanded upon brilliantly.
In many ways, Dead Space remake is a great example of how to retell an old story with new flourishes. Adding depth without retconning, making the universe wider and deeper without damaging it. That there’s entirely new story beats, more sensible lines of discovery and even a secret alternative ending, means there’s plenty worth exploring for new and experienced players alike.
Isaac’s and the Ishimura’s stories were always compelling way back when, but now they’re enhanced. There’s still a lot of reliance on text and audio logs for exposition delivery, but more is offered through dialogue now. It makes the narrative feel more rewarding as a whole and I imagine many players will find it to be a fresh, invigorating tale to be immersed in once again.
Engineer To Arms
Fundamentally, Dead Space is a survival story. As a third-person action title with horror themes and presentation, the original was quite revolutionary in its approach to combat. Isaac is an spaceship engineer, not an intergalactic soldier. The weapons he uses are reconstituted tools, his armour is a hefty suit to protect from injuries on the job. He’s a handyman facing a terrifying threat with nothing but his ingenuity and knowledge.
Remake brings back the same action orientated approach as the original. The dismemberment system has been maintained with some minor improvements and the combat speed has been increased pretty substantially. Once again, the Necromorphs are weak to losing limbs as opposed to a shot between the eyes. This rebooted version feels even more frantic as while Isaac moves, shoots and animates much quicker, so do the alien threats.
The sped up pace has it feeling more akin to Dead Space 2, which amps up the intensity and pressure. This is good for the game’s feel, as it feeds the notion of the Necromorphs being powerful and overwhelming. It does remove a little of the original’s grounded aura, as Isaac does handle like more of a competent force of nature than his experience should otherwise suggest.
Weapons wise, the Plasma Cutter is still as reliable as it was 15 years ago, maybe even more so now. The arsenal of tools has been maintained, with the Flamethrower, Ripper, Force Gun, Line Gun, Contact Beam and Pulse Rifle all returning. Each has been fine tuned for the experience, particularly with some balance shifts. For example, the Pulse Rifle’s alternate fire has been changed from a ridiculous flurry of shots to an explosive mine.
I never quite appreciated the diverse range of tools to hand when I played Dead Space as a teen, but in the remake, normal and hard difficulties almost make it essential to use each weapon to face down the varieties of Necromorphs. The Line Gun minces tendril enemies, but is hopeless in crowd battles, while the ripper can stagger and manage groups at the expense of raw DPS. Most importantly, every weapon (minus the Flamethrower) has kept it’s sense of visceral power.
It still feels awesome to obliterate limbs and tendrils in a desperate bid to survive, maybe even more so now the pace is that much more frantic.
Not So Derelict Is The USG Ishimura
Stasis and Kinesis further kit out Isaac’s options to tackle the monstrous threat, enabling use of the Ishimura’s environment to take down the space nasties. Launching explosive barrels and forcefully pinning a rogue necro to the wall with a spiked pipe simply never gets old. They’re virtually identical to their original iterations so there’s not much to report there.
Your ability to navigate and explore the soon-to-be decommissioned planet cracker dreadnought certainly has changed, however. Isaac can now backtrack across almost every area of the ship that’s accessible via a tram system. Shortcuts and winding routes have been introduced that allows ease of movement to previously covered sectors. Your main progress path is still relatively linear, with security clearances and blocked paths only opening upon making your way through the story.
But backtrack you’ll most certainly want to. Motive Studio have put a lot of work into adding new items to uncover via locked cabinets, lockers and rooms which can only be accessed later in the game. These new additions make the Ishimura feel like more of a livable, realistic space than it already was, providing ample chance to move back-and-forth between its hubs.
It helps they’ve also included 3 new side quests that serve as constant threads throughout the story. They’ll have you accessing previously locked areas, syncing well with the newly implemented free-travel system. Not only does it provide more narrative exposition, it offers the player a tangible gameplay benefit for engaging with the backtracking elements, something the original never had.
Upgrade nodes, schematics for weapons and ammo types, health items, currency and sellable desirables can all be found through thoughtful exploration and scouring the environment. As such, you’re permanently being rewarded for taking the time to engage in Motive Studio’s newest additions, though returning to previous areas still holds inherent risk as Necromorphs can retake sections you’ve already decontaminated. You’re never safe in Dead Space and this remake only amplifies that fact.
Variety Is The Spice of Space
Motive Studio have clearly put a lot of care into sprucing up the gameplay offering in this new iteration of Dead Space. Certain frustrating sections like the ADS cannon sequence have been substantially reworked and some new battles have been introduced to make this harrowing survival journey feel unique in it’s own right.
Enemy variety has been expertly maintained here thanks to a few small tweaks. Different areas of the Ishimura have distinct Necromorph types based on who was being infected by the alien species. The mining hub for example, has necros which are impervious to damage aside from their arms and head, owing to their more heavily armoured hosts.
The detailing and character modelling of different varieties has been improved drastically to aid this. You can see the humanoid remains on the creatures more clearly, their faces are far more visible and the identifying traits are more distinct. It all combines together to help the player both differentiate threats and better understand the way the infection works.
Unfortunately, you’ll still have to kill a lot of enemies. Bounding launcher creatures, projectile spewing ranged foes, bomb carrying abominations, the dozens of unit types are seemingly limitless. The variety in threats you face means you’re still in a chaotic dance of death with each engagement, desperately trying to manage space while fumbling through your arsenal to blast the creatures into space oblivion.
Outside of combat, there’s the usual exploration for resources and a handful of puzzles or boss encounters. Puzzles are handled well, with clear indicators and an obvious logic to progress, even if a rogue battery can be a nuisance to find. Boss battles… don’t hold up quite as well. Particularly the final encounter, which suffers from boring mechanics and too highly telegraphed moves. I would have liked to see a little more change implemented to these as their simplicity shows their age a bit too much.
That minor gripe aside though, Dead Space holds up superbly well thanks to its mix of action sequences, tension building tip-toe exploration and resource gathering alongside some minor puzzles.
A Dazzling Disaster
So, we can already tell that gameplay and story wise, Dead Space remake has virtually nailed every component. What about graphically? Given the original was released 15 years ago, the expectation is remake should look wildly improved in 2023.
Well, I’m pleased to report it’s both stunning and hellish all at once. The Ishimura was already pretty iconic for its fantastic rendition of a realised space. Each hub and location feels distinct thanks to the tremendous architectural and design philosophy that inspired it. Only now, it’s far shinier and well realised.
Corridors feel that much more claustrophobic than ever before. The sight of a gigantic fuel-powered tethering beam is even more awe-inspiring and the attention to detail within crew quarters, medical bays and life-saving hydroponics is especially noteworthy. One of my major issues with The Callisto Protocol was that while the graphics were second-to-none in terms of raw pixels, the location of Black Iron Prison felt lifeless and devoid of any real unique personality. No such issues here.
Human character models do however suffer a bit within the remake. Isaac’s face for example looks exceptionally plain and strangely lacking in nuance. Compared alongside Jacob from Callisto and the difference is ridiculously plain. Luckily, the Necromorphs fare much… worse? Their mangled and contorted limbs are accentuated with a hideously fine brush. Blood plasters every inch of the Ishimura and small dynamic details like Isaac’s suit being plastered in the glistening blood of the creatures do so much work to sell the horrific sense of atmosphere.
Dynamic lighting is once again superb, as the crumbling ship’s interiors regularly plunge into darkness, depriving you of any sight. Dead Space isn’t quite as scary as when I first encountered it in 2008, but that’s not for a lack of trying on the remake’s part. There’s nothing quite like seeing the empty expanse of space as you head into an exposed part of the ship or into a Zero-G area too.
The Ishimura and the Necromorphs still pack a phenomenal visual punch. The graphical overhaul for the most part has been handled spectacularly, just avoid looking too closely at people’s faces.
The Immersive Space
Dead Space’s attention to immersion was one of its most defining features and Motive Studio have recaptured that essence more than competently. We may have taken for granted just how effective it was to have your health be represented on your suit, or to have in-built weapon targeting to aim with as opposed to a reticule.
Newly added content fits the established mould well, whether it be your objective tracking appearing via your RIG or side missions being labelled within the same interface. Everything has a place within Dead Space, removing the sense of “game-ness” about most mechanics. The overhauled map and traversal systems are prime examples of how Motive Studio have integrated quality of life improvements without sacrificing the immersive nature of the game’s fundamental core.
It’d also be a travesty to speak about any Dead Space experience without mentioning audio. Honestly, the remake devs were given a golden ticket seeing as the original has some of the best audio design seen in a video game. Having said that, it’s once again stellar in remake. The constant shreaking of percussion instruments, the incessant fast-paced notes that undercut almost every scene.
Hearing the banging of vents and smacking of metal only serves to enhance the sense of dread throughout the playthrough. Even on my New Game+ run, I was still being caught out by the onslaught of noises, screeches, gurgles and rumblings all around. Jump scares are plentiful as a result and without the fantastic audio work the Ishimura wouldn’t be half of the cocoon of horror it undoubtedly is.
Horror games have developed a hell of a lot since 2008, yet the Dead Space remake shows this old dog can still mix it with the new hounds on the block, even if it hasn’t learnt too many new tricks.
Back From The Dead
The biggest success about Motive Studio’s reborn Dead Space is that it still feels very much like Dead Space. Everything about the remake has that familiar sense of the game we played so long ago. Yet, this new beast feels fresh – it’s grown it’s own razor sharp limbs and contorted body from the corpse of a long-passed being.
Additions to combat, exploration and puzzling all feel fulfilling and the majority of what’s been reworked is an unmitigated success. The creative decision to voice Isaac may not sit well with every returning fan and some may also baulk at the fact some bosses or sections weren’t redesigned as well as others (looking at you, final boss), but this remake will make most of us feel whole again.
It’s been wonderful to return to Dead Space and its unique brand of horror and action. Motive Studio have, alongside Resident Evil 2 and Final Fantasy 7 Remake, shown what can be done to make an old IP feel new once again. Come on down to Aegis VII, you’ll only partially regret it.
Like the Necromorphs themselves, Dead Space has been reanimated from death thanks to a superb remake treatment courtesy of Motive Studio. The USG Ishimura feels alive with terror once more thanks to fleshed out narrative stakes, an engaging exploration overhaul and a wonderful attention to detail. The Marker beckons, won’t you make us whole again?
Dead Space is available now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X and PC.
Developer: EA Motive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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